Editorial: SU should fight admin on tuition

By Jon Roe

Are some things not worth fighting for? That’s the message the Students’ Union seems to be conveying with their new strategy towards the university’s unyielding march on raising tuition this year. The University of Calgary Students’ Union released their Tuition Consultation Proposal Tue. at the Students Legislative Council and, despite showing thorough research and preparation, the proposal lacks some necessary elements.

The SU will be voting no on the expected tuition hike at the Board of Governor’s meeting, a fact emphasized in bold-face in their tuition consultation proposal, but instead of actively and visibly protesting the hike with the type of demonstrations historically associated with student associations, the SU recommends in the proposal that any tuition hike comes with an increase in quality of education.

The 65th SU is attempting to parallel the success of the Quality Money secured from the university since 2003. The Quality Money, which has been in the range of $1.5 million in the past few years, has been spent on various good initiatives including a new wellness centre, which will bring a dentist to campus, part of the redesign of the social sciences hallway for the 40 new spaces and scholarships. Quality money, thanks to negotiations, has been secured for at least two more academic years beyond this one.

Unfortunately, unlike Quality Money, quality of education is hardly as tangible or as easily measurable. In the SU’s tuition consultation proposal, they

ask the U of C to address the concerns of students by “improving the quality of education indicator by 4.6 per cent.” The proposal fails to mention what indicator specifically they’ll be looking at or how they’ll measure the improvement. An overall quality of education measurement is given by a graph in the appendix of the proposal, showing that students are “dissatisfied/very dissatisfied”, “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their education. The graph details two years of National Survey of Student Engagement results, showing that in 2003,

16.5 per cent of students were very dissatisfied, 70 per cent were satisfied and 12 per cent were very satisfied, while in 2006, the results were 11.8 per cent, 68.6 per cent and

19.3 per cent respectively. The proposal doesn’t detail which of these three indicators they’ll be looking at for a 4.6 per cent improvement.

Quality of education is important for students, yet it’s hard to measure. Though the recommendations outlined by the SU show they’ve put a great deal of work into the proposal, they raise a key question that is never answered: what if the university doesn’t hit a 4.6 per cent increase in the overall quality of education, whatever indicator they choose to base it on? There is absolutely nothing inside this framework that holds administration accountable to the recommendations, if they actually listen to it and it fails to work. The proposal asks for a report from the provost in the next two years, but beyond that, there is nothing binding.

Currently, it seems like poor strategy to be playing ball with university administration. Reputation is a top priority for the university, as it should be, and the U of C’s reputation has taken a beating thanks to poor showings in numerous university rankings, like Maclean’s annual rankings. When the SU quietly submits proposals without raising the kind of protest that stops traffic or has people show up sans clothes at BoG meetings, it plays into the university’s public relations strategy. The U of C can continue to deny the surveys don’t represent the work done in recent years, as they did last year, while the reality is the university is still worse than its peers at satisfying students. A large-scale protest would show this far more than quiet negotiation.

Visible protests are hard to organize and it’s likely a maximum tuition increase will occur anyway. But it shows something important: students, if prodded, are willing to gather, yell and attack the unrelenting increase in tuition rather than take it quietly lying down, as it will likely appear this year.

The SU has decided the past 30 years of active and visible tuition fights have not achieved any results, bringing this new strategy. This is a mistake, as their time-consuming proposal lacks accountability and measurability-two key elements that need to be there in order for there to be a hope of any results-and is the product of a poor strategy. The university wants students to be happy and when discontent is quiet, it might as well be consent. The SU needs to show leadership and direct the fight against perpetual

maximum tuition hikes in a visible way.

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